New Album Review

88.1 Pick of the Week 2/10

Realism by The Magnetic Fields
88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 2/10

Charlie Burnett

Stephin Merritt, leader of the band The Magnetic Fields, has long been one of music’s more underappreciated lyricists, as well as one its best. Whether he’s writing 69 love songs or applying walls of guitar distortion to his songs, the one thing that always stands out the most in his songs are his lyrics. Sung in a deep baritone that can be an acquired taste for those unaccustomed to it, Merritt delivers charming, clever lines full of self-deprecating humor and wit.

For The Magnetic Fields’ ninth record, Realism, Merritt and pianist/vocalist Claudia Gonson, cellist Sam Devol, and guitarist/banjo player John Woo strip away the guitar squalls found on previous record Distortion for a more stripped down, acoustic sound reminiscent of Distortion predecessor i and their excellent live sets. Acoustic guitar, piano, mandolin, cello, and the contrasting voices of Merritt and Gonson fill the songs with a natural, organic sound.

The Magnetic Fields, while always having a noticeably different sound than other bands, craft their songs around pop melodies that can only be described as indelible and lovely, as evidenced in first track “You Must Be Out of Your Mind”. Wrapped in an exceedingly beautiful musical arrangement, Merritt begins the self-deprecation and crucifying of ex-lovers with such classic lines as “You can’t go ‘round just saying stuff because it’s pretty/ And I no longer drink enough to think you’re witty”.

Riding on a buoyant, upbeat melody, “Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree” offers a detour, if not all together relief, from Merritt’s notorious lyrical cynicism. A self-help anthem of sorts, Merritt asks the song’s subject “Why sit in your dark and lonely room?”, going on to recommend to the unnamed subject that if people don’t like them “screw them/Don’t leave your fortune to them”.

On “Always Already Gone”, Gonson takes over the role of lead vocalist to offer a lament of an ex-lover who, while together, seemed to be “always already gone”. A heartbreaking song most could probably relate to, it is made that much more delicate and lovely by a lilting arrangement of banjo, cello, piano, and acoustic guitar.

Completing a self-proclaimed “no-synth trilogy,“ Realism offers longtime fans the same wit and playfulness The Fields have always been known for, but is also accessible enough to appeal to not just the common indie pop/rock listener, but the top-40 radio or NPR listener, as well. As a collection of oddball pop songs, Realism offers a great starting point for newcomers of the group, as well as another great entry into their already exellent discography.

88.1 WKNC DJ Pick of the Week is published in every Tuesday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at and